New 2020 Land Rover Defender entering final stage of testing

The final stage of the new Land Rover Defender’s development programme will be a field test based in Kenya with Tusk Trust

The final phase of the new Land Rover Defender’s development programme has been revealed, and it consists of a rigorous field test in Kenya with the British Wildlife conservation organisation, Tusk Trust. The announcement falls on the 71st Anniversary of the original Land Rover, which debuted on the 30th April at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show.

A Defender prototype will be put to work in the Borana Conservancy, towing heavy loads, wading through rivers and carrying supplies across 14,000 hectares of rough terrain in a bid to test its real-world performance. By the time it reaches the UK market next year, Land Rover’s development fleet will have completed more than 45,000 individual tests.

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The fleet has already racked up 1.2 million kilometres (around 750,000 miles) worth of testing on all manner of surfaces, ranging from the muddy trails of Eastnor, UK to the sand dunes of Dubai, as well as several stints at the Nurburgring.

Nick Rogers, Jaguar Land Rover’s Executive Director of Product Engineering said: “the incredible opportunity to put it to the test in the field, supporting operations at the Borana Conservancy in Kenya, with Tusk, will allow our engineers to verify that we are meeting this target as we enter the final phase of our development programme.”

The new Defender was designed and developed in the UK, at the firm’s engineering facility in Gaydon. Global production of the new Defender will be handled by Land Rover’s recently-opened manufacturing plant in Nitra, Slovakia.

New Land Rover Defender: design

This latest “Tusk Trust” branded Defender mule follows on from an official teaser photo which showed a prototype of the all-new Defender under going off-road testing in North America as part of a gruelling development cycle. The vehicle was subjected to temperatures as low as minus 40 Celsius and as high as 48 Celsius, and at attitudes as high as 13,000ft.

We’ve spotted both a short-wheelbase Defender ‘90’ and a long-wheelbase Defender ‘110’ in the testing phase, and on the road the latter of the two versions looks vast – similar in stature to the current Land Rover Discovery.

While it’s clear that design cues from the modern Land Rover and Range Rover models will make their way onto the off-roader, there are other details that will clearly mark the car out as a true Land Rover Defender. The headlights, for example, seem to feature a clear round headlamp with small indicator bulbs to the side – albeit fared into the main unit, unlike the classic Defender.

Likewise around the back, the tail-lights appear to be designed in a similar way to those of the car that the new Defender will replace. The sides taper towards the roof, while a side-hinged tailgate gives access to the luggage bay.

The four-door test cars have a large, completely flat bonnet covered by heavy cladding, with a slim grille below. The familiar Land Rover vents are visible behind the front wheel-arches and the windows are set back from the boxy shoulder line, which suggests more substantial cladding on the doors.

The new Land Rover Defender will have an aluminium body built on an aluminium chassis and will use parts from other Land Rover vehicles, while being built alongside other cars from the range. JLR executive, Dr Ralph Speth, said: “We’re already doing this now… We used the modular architecture and elements of our chassis for weight reduction to make the new Discovery a better-handling car. We will do so also in the future because we always learn.”

New Land Rover Defender: interior

We briefly got a look at the interior of the new Land Rover Defender when a picture was leaked on Twitter. The image, which has since been deleted, exposed the reborn SUV’s dash in full, showing a large infotainment screen, a digital instrument binnacle and a chunky multifunction steering wheel.

The picture also revealed the hint of a middle seat, which suggests a potential three-seat layout, and an amusing set of labelled pedals with “GO” stamped on the accelerator and “STOP” printed on the brake.

New Land Rover Defender: development history

While it will display similarities with the old car, it is clear Land Rover doesn’t want to create a replica of the original. Speaking at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief marketing officer Felix Bräutigam said: “The new Defender will not simply be a copy-cat, something retro. It will be something that moves the game on for Land Rover.”

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The new Defender is set for launch later this year and Land Rover has previously confirmed that the first customers will take delivery in 2020. Bräutigam added: “Our first, really excited customers should have their cars by 2020. We will stage it properly; the train has left the station but we are not rushing to a specific date. It’s exciting to now start getting one step closer to officially announcing the rebirth of an icon.”

Mules have been powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine, according to the registration information held by the DVLA, while other prototypes have been running a petrol engine. With Land Rover having already confirmed that all its models post 2020 will be electrified in some way, we expect that each powertrain will feature at least a 48-volt mild-hybrid system.

Jaguar Land Rover insists the Defender will need a “balanced engine portfolio” in order to succeed in all global markets, however. A look under the rear of the car also appears to reveal an independent suspension set-up.

Prices are yet to be confirmed for the new Defender, but the shorter Defender 90 could start from somewhere in the region of £40,000.

New Land Rover Defender: large family planned

Beyond the launch of the basic model, Land Rover is planning to introduce a series of Defender models, spanning a variety of shapes and body styles. Land Rover’s chief marketing officer Felix Bräutigam told Auto Express: “One of the exciting things for us is that we are not launching a car, we are launching a family of cars.”

Furthermore, design boss Gerry McGovern has hinted that a performance SVR version of the forthcoming 4×4 could also be on the cards. Such a car would be developed by Jaguar Land Rover’s newly formed Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division, and would allow the brand to tap into demand in Russia and China for powerful and luxurious rugged off-roaders, currently dominated by the Mercedes-AMG G 63.

It’s also likely that a hardcore Defender SVX will join the range at some stage and we could even see a luxurious SVA version in line with the Range Rover SVAutobiography.

Whatever happens, the new Defender will continue Land Rover’s recent move upmarket. “In its core form it can be something that can be quite elemental up to something incredibly luxurious,” said McGovern.

Are you holding out for the new Land Rover Defender, or would you rather have this Defender-inspired Suzuki Jimny? Let us know below!